Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has asked China to release the medical records of nine people whose illnesses could provide vital clues as to whether Covid-19 has emerged as a result of a lab leak.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told the Financial Times the documents could help clarify doubts about the origins of a disease that has already caused more than 3 million to 5 million deaths in the world. world.
The medical records in question are those of three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who reportedly fell ill in November 2019, and six minors who fell ill in 2012 after entering a cave with bats. Scientists from the Institute then visited the cave to sample the bats. Three of the miners died.
Shi Zhengli, director of the Institute for Coronaviruses, has previously denied the idea that infections have occurred in the laboratory. Fauci did not dispute the allegation, but said it needed further investigation.
“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who would have fallen ill in 2019,” Fauci said. “Did they really get sick, and if so, what was the illness? “
“The same applies to minors who fell ill years ago – what do their medical records say? Have these people contracted a virus? What virus? It is quite conceivable that the origin of Sars-Cov-2 is in this cave and that it then started to spread naturally or passed through the laboratory.
The State Department declined to say whether the Biden administration asked China for the medical records.
At a press conference on Friday (4), the Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to say whether it would consider providing the medical records of the nine people. But spokesman Wang Wengin echoed a statement made by the institute in March, saying none of its professionals had ever been infected with the coronavirus.
The origin of Covid-19 has become one of the most controversial questions of the pandemic. Former US President Donald Trump said last year he believed the coronavirus had leaked from the Wuhan lab, but the idea was widely rejected by most of the scientific community, to whom the virus was said to have been much more likely to be naturally transmitted from animals to humans. .
But the laboratory leak theory has gained traction in recent weeks after a group of leading scientists signed a letter arguing that it should be taken seriously. Renewed attention is also being given to Wuhan researchers hospitalized weeks before the first case of Covid-19 was officially documented.
Joe Biden last week called on U.S. intelligence services to come to a 90-day conclusion on what triggered the pandemic. The White House said two branches of the intelligence community believed the Sars-Cov-2 virus was transmitted naturally, but a third believed it was from the Wuhan Institute. Neither branch has any degree of confidence in its conclusion.
Fauci has been accused, especially by conservatives, of playing down the theory that Covid was leaked from the lab, in part to protect the reputation of NIAID, which helped fund controversial bat research in Wuhan .
David Asher, former director of the State Department’s investigation into the origins of Covid-19, asked why Fauci is only now asking for medical records. He noted that the Trump administration publicly stated in January that U.S. intelligence services believed scientists in Wuhan had fallen ill with symptoms of the virus.
“It amazes me that Fauci is making this request now,” said Asher, who is now a member of the Washington-based conservative Hudson Institute think tank.
Asher added that while he respected Fauci, he was frustrated by what he saw as a lack of interest from NIAID and its organization, the National Institute of Health, in investigating the possibility that the virus had leaked from the lab.
Fauci told the Financial Times he continues to believe the virus was transmitted to humans via animals, noting that even if lab staff had contracted Covid-19, they would have contracted the disease from the general population. But he said he thinks the matter deserves further investigation, not least because it is of great public interest.
“I always thought that, given the experience we had with SARS, Mers, Ebola, HIV, avian flu, the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the likelihood was greater that the virus would have made a jump between species, ”Fauci said. . “But we must continue to investigate until a possibility is proven.”
But he rejected the idea that his organization could have any responsibility for the pandemic, saying: “You are really trying to say that we are at fault with the notary because we have given to an institution, which manages billions of dollars. dollars, $ 120,000 a year to fund bat watching? “
Translation by Clara Allain